The Hurting Spouse, What Can I Do?

by Sally R. Connolly, LMFT and John E. Turner, LMFT

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It is common for both spouses to feel a great deal of anxiety and depression, sometimes even suicidal thoughts, after the affair has been uncovered or revealed. The crisis of infidelity shakes even the strongest people and the reactions are like any traumatic event.

The hurting spouse moves through feelings of despair, despondence, fear, anger and rage. The initial responses may range from the desire to do anything to save the marriage with a desperate pursuit of their spouse to insistence by the hurting spouse that their partner should immediately leave the house and make plans to file for divorce. The stronger the trust, the greater the surprise and that generally leads to the most intense reactions.

The spouse who has had the affair generally feels a great deal of guilt and remorse, although that may not be what comes out of his or her mouth. Initially their reponse to the hurting spouse response may be defensive ones that blame the marriage as the reason for the affair.

This person, the one who had the affair, if there has been an emotional connection with the affaire', also may feel some ambivalence about ending that relationship and hurting the other person. There generally is no desire to talk about the specifics of the affair, both to protect the hurting spouse as well as to protect themselves.

Most couples that experience an affair … and both decide that they want to save the marriage, can recover. Sometimes it may take a while before one or both make a clear decision to work on the marriage. Ambivalence may hang around for a while.

The first thing that the couple needs to do is to acknowledge that there has been this crisis, that it is a very painful time and that they must find a way to calm down and make decisions deliberately and in their own best interests, not as a reaction to the traumatic event.